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"What does Brownian motion teach us about the submicroscopic world of cells and other soft matter systems?"

Ernst-Ludwig Florin
Department of Physics
The University of Texas at Austin


Soft matter systems, including biological cells, have in common that thermal forces are sufficient to cause large deformations and displacements. For example, thermal forces acting on thin biological fibers lead to shape fluctuation that can be easily observed by light microscopy and biological membranes flicker perpendicularly to their surface like a drumhead.

My group exploits thermal fluctuations in the widest sense to learn about the unusual mechanical properties of individual microtubule filaments, the submicroscopic organization of semiflexible polymer networks, and the nanometer scale organization of the plasma membrane. We develop microscopes that use the Brownian motion of small colloidal particles embedded in semiflexible polymer networks as natural scanners to explore and visualize the three-dimensional network architecture with submicroscopic resolution in vitro.

I will give an overview over our microscope developments and present recent results demonstrating the surprisingly rich mechanical behavior of microtubules, the most important component of the cytoskeleton of eukaryotic cells, which turns out to be an ingenious multifunctional material.

Friday, November 2, 2012
IQSE 578, 2:00 p.m.
Mitchell Physics Building

Department of Physics and Astronomy
Texas A&M University

(Coffee and Cookies to be served at 1:45 p.m.)